What to Expect From a Mental Health Counselor

Studies show that only around half of the one in five people in the United States who need mental health treatment actually receive the help they require [1]. Unfortunately, untreated mental health conditions can considerably impact a person’s well-being and day-to-day life. Not only this, but the health problems are unlikely to improve over time and will almost certainly get worse.

Many people delay treatment due to a fear of what they will experience at a counseling session and the stigma still attached to mental health issues. However, there is nothing to fear and no shame in seeking help. Even so, it can help take the nerves away if you understand the process of mental health counseling.

What Are Mental Health Counselors?

A mental health counselor is a professional trained to treat many aspects of mental health, from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and relationship issues. They use techniques to improve a person’s lifestyle, reduce stress, and devise strategies to enhance and maintain mental health.

The reasons to go to a mental health counselor vary, so the exact detail of what you can expect will differ depending on your reasons for attending. However, there are many other consistent aspects of mental health counseling common to all forms of treatment.

What to Expect

When you sign up for mental health counseling, you can expect to talk broadly about yourself, your issues, and any symptoms you may have. By understanding various parts of your personality and situation, a counselor can devise a treatment plan for you to work through.

There are two main areas a mental health counselor will use to develop your plan. Firstly, they need to understand your behavior and how you process certain emotions and thoughts. So, you may get questions that you do not think are necessarily relevant but give the counselor valuable information about how your brain works.

The second aspect is identifying causes of stress both currently and in the past to determine what can trigger your mental health symptoms. By combining these stressors with their understanding of your emotions, they can devise a set of coping techniques to help you when you feel unable to cope.

Types of Mental Health Counseling

Depending on the reasons for your counseling, the psychotherapy you receive will differ and may also tie in with other medical experts to provide a complete treatment package. For example, if you’re tackling addiction, you may also need medical treatment to relieve any physical symptoms and help stop the substance abuse.

One of the most common forms of counseling is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which uses evidence-based techniques to help you understand your thinking patterns and change your behaviors accordingly. CBT is a common approach when dealing with those who suffer from substance abuse to help identify the triggers that cause them to reach for their addiction.

Psychodynamic therapy is a second technique to relieve emotional and mental stress. This approach aims to look at your problems in the present day and link them to problems you may have had in the past. This self-reflection helps identify patterns in your past behavior that explain your current behaviors.

Finally, interpersonal therapy is a common technique in treating depression and relationship issues. The goal is to communicate your thoughts and emotions better to others so that you can address any problems that may be contributing to your problem. This form of treatment is often used alongside antidepressant medication to help alleviate symptoms.

Does Mental Health Counseling Work?

For most people, mental health counseling is an excellent form of treatment for their health issues. Research suggests that around 75% of people who start psychotherapy benefit from the treatment [2]. Of the different forms of counseling, CBT has the most research, with many studies indicating a beneficial outcome in treating issues ranging from anxiety, anger management, depression, and substance abuse [3,4]. While there is no guarantee any form of treatment will work for you, the outlook is good for improving your symptoms.

Signing up for mental health counseling can be a daunting experience. Many people feel they are failing by reaching out for help with their mental issues, but nothing could be further from the truth. If you are struggling, counseling is a proven way to help get you back on track, enjoy your life, and improve your relationships with the people around you.


[1] nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness

[2] apa.org/topics/understanding-psychotherapy

[3] ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/

[4] ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696292/

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Glen Carner

Glen Carner